A darkly humorous and powerful exploration of post-9/11 America. -OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival -Films with 9/11 subject matter timely in marketplace: Oliver Stone?s World Trade Center and United 93 (DVD 9... more »-5-2006)« less
B. Merritt | WWW.FILMREVIEWSTEW.COM, Pacific Grove, California | 04/12/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"There's a lot to be said for a film that makes profound statements about the 9/11 attacks and its effects on Vietnam vets. Most of us were probably too shocked inside our own little bubble to realize the impact these men felt when exploding planes collapsed the twin towers. But director Wim Wenders (DON'T COME KNOCKING) pulls it off thanks to a fairly good script and even better acting by lead actors John Diehl and Michelle Williams.
Never having seen Diehl in a leading role, this movie shows he's got some serious chops and can act with the best Hollywood has to offer. Equally Michelle Williams pulls off a stunningly excellent performance as the worldly but loving niece who helps Diehl discover himself all over again.
The story ...
Paul (John Diehl) is a Vietnam vet living in Los Angeles. He lives in a fantasy world all his own, believing that he's helping with national security by tracking suspicious looking people with his surveillance tricked-out van. He operates a camera that comes out of the van's sunroof and records activity around town.
Michelle (Michelle Williams, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN) is returning from Tel Aviv after years away from the States. Her mother passed away and she's trying to hook up with her last surviving relative in America: Paul. Working at a mission for the poor, she befriends many of its patrons and meets up with a withdrawn Arab-looking gentleman named Hassan (Shaun Taub, CRASH) who also happens to be one of Paul's prime suspects.
Paul witnesses Hassan hauling boxes of borax and quickly learns that it is an ingredient for certain bomb materials. On high alert, Paul records everything Hassan does. This brings him closer to his niece, Michelle. But Hassan lives on the street and is eventually shot to death right in front of Paul, making him believe that someone knocked him off for sinister reasons.
Michelle is beset with grief about Hassan's death and searches for one of his family members. Eventually finding one near Death Valley, she convinces Paul to drive her and the body to Hassan's brother for burial. Paul agrees in the hopes of gaining more information about who Hassan was and what he was up to.
As the nexus between Paul's old Vietnam life and the new one that awaits him with Michelle begins to culminate, we see him battling bad dreams of his time in Southeast Asia but being aided and comforted by Michelle and, to his surprise, by Hassan's death and Hassan's brother.
We quickly learn that Paul went down a bad trail after the 9/11 attacks, his mind sparking up old memories in order to protect itself. He lives in his van, which is his life-connection to the world now. But that will change once Michelle teaches him how to trust again.
The film is touching if sometimes a bit heavy-handed in the dialogue department. We're sometimes forcibly given rather trite information about the homeless and war, but this is easily overlooked thanks to the able acting of its two main characters."
Captures 2003 America
J. W. Hickey | Manhattan area | 05/12/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A little disorienting at first, this movie is such a rich tapestry with several multidimensional characters that one can't be certain where it's taking us. The America never seen in American films (except by Haskell Wexler) defines post-9/11 bewilderment within the context of poverty, legitimate faith, and paranoia. A second viewing--during the director's commentary--reveals that (Leonard Maltin's review to the contrary) the narrative structure is tight.
The central male character conjures up the anomie of the leads in THE PARALLAX VIEW, TAXI DRIVER, and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. The Christian heroine is a good and decent young woman, played with freshness and sincerity and not one whiff of cynicism. The black minister, performed by one of THE WIRE's wittier regulars, offers a more true-to-life representation of black Americans' core values than almost ever reaches American TV or movie screens, and without treacle or bombastics. One regrets the absence of close-ups in the cameo by Gloria (TITANIC, INVISIBLE MAN) Stuart, but her scene is delightful.
In his commentary, Wenders repeatedly extols the use of DVD cameras that allowed him to complete 60 or 70 set-ups a day in a 16-day shoot. The cinematography (all hand-held) is astonishingly beautiful. And Wenders rightly praises his set designer who had only $20,000 to work with and yet came in under budget!
Doubtless, the German director's background affords him the distance with which to comment so cogently on America a couple of months after Bush declared the invasion of Iraq a success. With its documentary feel and non-mainstream perspective, LAND OF PLENTY will increase in value over the years, as a photo album of conditions and attitudes we can only hope will continue to heal."
A German director's reconcilation with 9/11
shanarufus | Asheville, NC | 10/13/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Wim Wenders has long had a love affair with America. He is particularly drawn to desolate places in the west and too enamored (imo) with American pop music. I'll get the flaws off my chest right away: too much pop music, or just over-musicked, and this is my major pet peeve in movies generally. Silence can often accomplish so much more. Second flaw is that it just skirts sentimentality.
John Diehl and Michelle Williams were absolutelty wonderful. Diehl is a dead-ringer for John Sayles but I got used to it. He is a 55-ish Vietnam vet who was exposed to Agent Orange and he is still suffering from PTSD. He is obsessed with the threat of more terrorism and he is so off-the-wall sometimes it is funny but he has no notion of how he must seem to others and he has little humor inside him. He is a patriot to his bones and drives around in his home-made detection and surveillance van aided by his somewhat goofy sidekick Richard Edson (who I like so much and am pleased he is in the movie).
Diehl is on the lookout for anything odd or untoward that might in any realm of rational thought possibly be a threat to America. He notices an Arab carrying boxes of Borax and he is hot on a trail that he thinks will lead him to a terrorist cell.
Enter his niece, Michelle Williams, who has just returned to the US after living in Israel and being involved with both Israelis and Palestinians. She has lived most of her life in Africa with her missionary parents. Diehl is her only living relative and she searches and finds him. This is the first time I have seen a deeply Christian person depicted in film who is credible and believable and doesn't make me want to puke (exceptions that come to mind are Susan Sarandon in Dead Man Walking and Karl Malden in On the Waterfront). She has a radiance that stops a few degrees short of boring and trite--so she nails the role and is very touching.
The Arab man is killed in a drive-by shooting (or was it? was it something more sinister?) and Michelle and her uncle bring the man's body to his only relative who Michelle has traced. Michelle and her uncle have totally different agendas and the resolution is very satisfying.
I didn't watch the movie with Wenders' voice-over commentary but I did watch The Making Of and Wenders has insightful and worthy things to say about America, its position in the world in the wake of 9/11 and what he was hoping to accomplish in this movie. Really liked it a lot despite its flaws."
'Angst and Alienation in America'
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 11/22/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"LAND OF PLENTY is nowhere near as powerful a title for this brilliant Wim Wenders film as the original working title, ANGST AND ALIENATION IN AMERICA. This is another Wim Wenders wonder of filmmaking, a quiet little powerhouse of a movie that should be required viewing for all of us. Wenders wrote this moving piece with assistance from Scott Derrickson and Michael Meredith and directs a sterling cast in an exploration of the American psyche post 9/11, and few writer/directors could have keener insight into the state of mind of a country at odds with itself and the rest of the world.
Lana (Michelle Williams) is flying back to the US after a two-year stay on the West Bank. She is the daughter of missionaries, having lived her life in Africa and other missionary fields and she is flying home after her mother's death to deliver a letter to her uncle Paul (John Diehl), a damaged Vietnam vet who has cut himself off from his family and the rest of life and in response to 9/11, his mind being obsessed with tracking Sleeper Cells to destroy terrorists in his own homemade surveillance van. Upon arriving in Los Angeles, Lana is met by Henry (Wendell Pierce) who is a pastor who runs a mission for the homeless of Los Angeles and provides Lana with a bleak room and a job in the kitchen of the mission. Lana is full of praise for God for all things, the optimistic evangelical girl who fails to recognize evil. One member of the mission bunkhouse is a Pakistani Hassan (Shaun Toub) whose garments and fixation on boxes of Borax alerts Paul to his possible involvement as a terrorist.
Lana contacts Paul, desires to connect with him, but Paul is aloof, obsessed with his 'mission' to ferret out terrorists. When Hassan is the victim of a drive-by shooting Lana is devastated at the loss of a human being while Paul is convinced Hassan was hit by a larger organization. Paul with his colleague Jimmy (Richard Edson) discover Hassan has a brother who lives in Trona (outside of Death Valley). Together Lana and Paul transport the corpse of Hassan to his brother Youssef (Bernard White) who lives in a hut in Trona: Lana is committed to doing the right thing, Paul sees an entry into more evidence for evil to quash. While Lana is warmly entertained by Youssef, Paul investigates the town and finds that the Borax boxes of Hassan's business were innocent means of washing carpets imported from Pakistan. The coming together of Youssef, Lana, and Paul finally achieves meaning when Paul reads the letter from his sister, Lana's mother, who somehow manages to erase all lines of prejudice, bigotry, religious differences, misunderstanding - finally giving breathing room to the damaged souls of the brotherhood of man the three represent.
Wenders manages to bathe his story in the light of reality yet maintain an unprejudiced stance in moving his characters through their paths of revelation. The camera wanders a bit, the music blends perhaps too heavily, and the pieces of the puzzle don't always fit together - much like life doesn't always fall into place the way we expect. But there is much to learn from Wenders' wisdom and with the aid of perfect performances from Michelle Williams, John Diehl, and Wendell Pierce he has created an indelible work. A fine film for us all to ponder. Grady Harp, November 06"
Realistic way to make a strong point
J. jarman-walsh | Hiroshima, Japan | 07/31/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There are so few films which deal with how Americans are dealing with the aftermath of the 9/11 terroist attacks and the fear and paranoia that follow. i didn't find it unrealistic, I think these characters were very believable. I think there are many people like Paul who felt like the government wasn't doing enough to protect its citizens and took on a guardian angel approach. There are other people like Lana who have a different perspective on it, maybe due to her travels and living abroad as an expat which helps her see things from a different perspective, but she is still deeply affected. I think this movie helps us see these two perspectives and therefore helps us deal with our personal grief and feelings about the terrorist attack. It is so important that Wenders has put the issue of 9/11 which was so publicised and hyped in the context of the homeless problem which is so completely ignored. This film is simple, but insightful."